Penn State, community members celebrate 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 launch

Fifty years after NASA launched Apollo 11, sending off the first men to ever walk on the moon, Penn State is making sure their impact does not go unnoticed.

Penn State’s departments of earth and mineral Science, engineering, and agricultural sciences, as well as the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, coordinated Tuesday’s Apollo 11 50th anniversary rocket launch, which took place at the Ag Progress Days site in Ferguson Township.

To celebrate the anniversary, 24 rockets 3D printed model rockets were set off by Penn State faculty and students at 9:32 a.m., the exact time the Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969.

The initial rocket launch was followed by launches from rockets that kids built at the event, as well as rockets families brought for the occasion.

Penn State professor Randall Bock spent two months preparing for the event, and said the anniversary holds significant meaning for him.

“I was five years old when I watched Apollo 11 go off and it had a huge effect on myself. So for me it’s nice to give some of that back to the younger generation 50 years later,” Bock said.

The launches were also in support of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which set of 5,000 model rockets in an attempt to break the world record for most model rockets launched simultaneously.

Beyond celebrating the anniversary, another goal of the event was to inspire young people to enter STEM related fields.

“So many people now were inspired by the moon landing and that’s why they went into the STEM field,” said Caitlin Teti, education program coordinator for PSGC. “Keeping the tradition alive of remembering how important it was is important to inspire the next generation.”

STEM student organizations were also involved in the event, including Lunar Lion, a club for Penn State undergraduates that aims to teach students about various aspects of aerospace technologies. For club members, Apollo 11 had a big impact on their career paths.

“Once I started researching more about (the Apollo moon landing), it made me realize what I want to do in life is work in the space industry,” said Ravi Patel, a senior at Penn State and member of Lunar Lion.

With all of the fanfare for space exploration and STEM studies, the importance of aerospace science was not lost on those who were a part of the event.

“So much technology comes out of space exploration that isn’t space related,” Teti said. “The lenses from the Hubble telescope helped make better mammograms, so technology that comes out of space exploration can help the whole world.”

Apollo 11 celebrations will continue this week, with the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium hosting a talk from former astronaut and State College resident James Pawelczyk on Saturday followed by a free screening of “Apollo 11” at The State Theatre.